Seventh and ‘final’ Kaesong talks to occur today

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Seventh and ‘final’ Kaesong talks to occur today

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The Kaesong Industrial Complex is seen from Dorasan Observatory in Paju, Gyeonggi, yesterday, just a day before the seventh round of talks to discuss reopening the inter-Korean economic project. [NEWSIS]

South and North Korea are set to hold a seventh round of low-level talks over reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex today, with rising concerns that the eight-year-old factory park could permanently shut down if they fail once again.

The list of the six negotiators, three from each side, and the schedule of the meeting will be same as the sixth round, according to the South’s Unification Ministry. The talks will be held in the General Support Center in the Kaesong park, North Korean territory, starting at 10 a.m. The closing time of the negotiation has not been set.

The South’s chief negotiator will be Kim Ki-woong, a high-ranking Unification Ministry official, and his Northern counterpart will be Pak Chol-su, vice director of the Central Special Zone Development Guidance General Bureau, a North Korean organization in charge of the Kaesong business district.

Concerns are growing that if the two Koreas once again fail to reach a deal, the district will be permanently closed down because another round of talks is unlikely with a Korea-U.S. joint military drill starting next week.

Pyongyang has protested the annual military exercise between the allies, called Ulchi Freedom Guardian, saying they were a rehearsal for an invasion. Seoul and Washington maintain they are regular drills for self-defense.

The most controversial issue is which side pledges that the industrial park won’t be shut down again when ties between the countries fray. North Korea says both sides have to make such a guarantee, while the South says the onus is solely on the North.

The conflict has its root in different perceptions of what caused the four-month shutdown. Seoul blames Pyongyang for unilaterally pulling out its 53,000 workers in April.

Pyongyang maintains it was provoked by different joint military drills by South Korean and American forces, while South Korean media have been crowing that the complex could never be shut down because North Korea needs the foreign currency it earns there. Pyongyang said the reports were an “insult” to its “utmost dignity.”

After six failed rounds, North Korea was silent on South Korea’s proposal for a seventh meeting for nine days. But last Wednesday, it suddenly accepted the proposal a few hours after the South took preliminary steps to permanently compensate owners of businesses in Kaesong for the shutdown, a sign that it wouldn’t reopen.

South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said the seventh round will be the “final talks” over Kaesong. On Thursday, North Korea sent a fax to the South saying it “expects the seventh round of the talks to come to fruition,” according to the Unification Ministry.

It was unusual for North Korea to deliver a message to Seoul ahead of the talks. The message added, “Please refrain from any words that will pour cold water on our tolerant and generous proposals.”

“We will attend the meeting calmly,” a Unification Ministry official told reporters yesterday.



BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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